R non-immigrant visas are for religious workers. This does not cover everyone who works for a church. Rather, it is limited to ministers and persons working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation. In other words, while a minister or music director would be an appropriate position for an R visa petition, a church secretary would not be.
The duration of stay in R-1 status is limited to 5 years, and spouses and children may accompany the religious worker.
In order to be eligible, the following requirements must be met:
- For two years immediately preceding the application, the foreign national has been a member of the religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.
- A minister includes deacons, practitioners of Christian Science and officers of the Salvation Army.
- A person working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation:
- A profession capacity is one that requires a bachelor’s degree as a minimum.
- A religious occupation involves activity that relates to a traditional religious function, such as cantors, liturgical workers, and religious broadcasters. It does not include clerks, fundraisers or maintenance workers.
- A religious vocation also relates to traditional religious functions such as nuns and monks.
USCIS makes a site visit to every church that petitions for an R-1 to be certain that the church is bona fide.